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The Bristol Book of Days
By D.G. Amphlett
The History PressCopyright © 2011 D.G. Amphlett
All rights reserved.
1701: In pursuance of an ancient custom, the sheriffs of Bristol presented the Mayor with a new scabbard for the state sword usually borne before him. It was made of silver gilt, costing the sheriffs about £80. On retirement, the Mayor probably retained the ornament as a souvenir. In return, the sheriffs received a pair of gold-fingered gloves costing around £20. (John Latimer, Annals of Bristol, Kingsmead, 1970)
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1864: Rail passengers entering down-line of the Patchway Tunnel near Bristol may catch sight of a commemorative plaque reading: 'BRISTOL & SOUTH WALES UNION RAILWAY OPENED SEPTEMBER EIGHTEEN HUNDRED & SIXTY THREE. CHRISTOPHER JAMES THOMAS CHAIRMAN. RAILWAY PIERS DESIGNED BY ISAMBARD KINGDOM BRUNEL.' The Union Railway ran from Bristol to New Passage on the River Severn, connecting with a ferry to convey passengers across the river to Portskewett, and connecting with trains to South Wales. This date marked the opening of a short (51 chains) railway branch from Portskewett to the South Wales main line and passengers could purchase a single ticket from Bristol to Cardiff. Previously passengers had to purchase three separate tickets – one for the train from Bristol to New Passage, one for the ferry, and another railway ticket for a train into South Wales. (John Norris, The Bristol & South Wales Union Railway, Railway and Canal Historical Society, 1985)
1894: Christopher James Thomas, a soap manufacturer, was born on August 16th 1807 at Llangadog, Carmarthenshire. He was educated until the age of 12 at Taliesin School, Merthyr Tydfyl, when he had to leave school to help out in his family's business. In 1830 he moved to Bristol to work in the family's soap business at the Red Lion Yard in Redcliffe Street. The firm merged with soap manufacturers Fripp & Co. in 1841 and the firm continued to innovate throughout the nineteenth century, for example using silicate of soda to fill soaps and patenting the extraction of glycerine from lyes in 1879. Thomas also played a role in the civic life of Bristol, becoming Liberal Councillor for St Phillip's ward (1845-1887), serving on the Bristol Docks Committee (1848-1878) and was a member of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce (1853-1877). He died on this date in 1894 and was buried at the Lewins Mead Unitarian Chapel. The epitaph on his grave reads: 'he bore testimony to the simple truths of Unitarian belief whereon this heart ever stayed.' (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, OUP)
1920: The following extract is a newspaper report of a robbery that took place on this day: 'As a poor labouring man was returning home from Bristol to Redland, through Pugley's field, he was accosted by two fellows, with a demand of money or life. The poor man, having purchased a new jacket with part of his wages, had but 7s remaining, and this he refused to give up. One of the fellows hereupon knocked him down, and rifled his pockets of their whole contents, further insisting upon the surrender of his new jacket, for which one of them gave him his own in exchange. Arriving home, and searching the pockets of the ill-conditioned wrapper of iniquity, the poor man was agreeably astonished to find in it a ten-pound Bank of England note! – doubtless, a recently-made prize, obtained from some less fortunate victim.' (The Times)
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1941: A major bombing raid on Bristol took place, with Temple Meads and the City Docks particularly badly affected. One hundred and forty-nine people died and 133 were seriously injured. The bitter cold meant that water streaming from the fire hoses caused icicles to form on the buildings and created sheets of ice on the roads below, hampering the attempts to quench the fires. (Reece Winstone, Bristol in the 1940s, 1961)
1977: The Albion Dockyard closed completely. The construction of the Bristol Floating Harbour in 1809 allowed for the building of the Albion Dockyard, which was then known as the New Dockyard, and it was built for the firm Hillhouse, Sons & Company. In 1827 Charles Hill, who had been an accountant at the company, became a partner in the firm. In 1845 the firm became Charles Hill & Son and the business remained there until the closure of the dockyard. In 1848 the New Dockyard was renamed the Albion Dockyard. The last Bristol ship to be built there was the Miranda Guinness, which was launched on July 9th 1976. The Miranda Guinness was the first bulk beer carrier to be registered with Lloyds and the ship was able to carry two million pints of beer. The ship was launched by Lady Iveagh, the wife of the joint chairman of Arthur Guinness, Son & Co. The closure of the Albion Dockyard became inevitable after Bristol City Council pushed through a Parliamentary Act to close the docks' commercial shipping in 1970. (The Times /www.bristol-rail.co.uk)
1753: An early Bristol newspaper, Felix Farley's Journal, records that the rural populace celebrated Christmas on this date. Why was this so? During 1752 a series of reforms to the calendar had taken place which aligned it with the Gregorian calendar that was used on the Continent. These changes resulted in the year beginning on January 1st rather than March 25th and the year 1752 was shortened by eleven days during September, so that September 14th followed September 2nd. These reforms seem to 'have been especially obnoxious to the uneducated classes who held certain fixed festivals, who could not understand why they should be deprived of nearly half a month, and who, many of them, believed that their lives would be shortened to a corresponding extent.' In many towns farmers were noticeably absent from their stalls on this day as they were celebrating Christmas according to the old calendar. In rural areas Felix Farley's Journal also records that 'to gratify the feelings of their parishioners, many rural clergymen preached nativity sermons on the following Sunday.' (Felix Farley's Journal, quoted in John Latimer, Annals of Bristol, Kingsmead, 1970)
1854: Those reading The Times on this date were treated to an unusual case of theft heard at the Bristol Quarter Session. Richard Harris, who had a reputation for being a 'cunning man', stole money from two women servants from a respectable house. They were Miss Boley and Miss Tracey, aged 21 and 23 respectively. Harris claimed to be able to make a charm that 'would compel towards them the affections of the male sex' and that they would be able to have whom they wanted as husbands. Harris demanded to be lent a sovereign to make a charm and the women gave all they had, amounting to 13s 6d. Harris drew a heart on some paper and pretended to wrap the coins in it, telling them that they should keep this charm in their pockets for nine days and in their bosoms for three days more. These credulous women pocketed the charm but later took a closer look at it. The half sovereign they had given Harris had been 'converted' into a sixpence, a half-crown into a penny and a shilling into a farthing. For these crimes Harris was sentenced to four months' imprisonment with hard labour. (The Times)
1851: At the Bristol Quarter Sessions James Simpson, described as 'a young man of respectable appearance and connexions', was sentenced to ten years transportation. Simpson was the head of a gang of thieves which had 'long infested that portion of the Great Western Railway between Bristol and Bath', on which Simpson had made repeated trips, always travelling in first class. However, on November 2nd 1850, a lady named Cook, with her servant, travelled from Bath to Bristol. While the servant was busily engaged with her mistress' luggage, Simpson pushed against her and, shortly afterwards, she noticed that the money from her pocket was gone. Alerting some of the railway officials, Simpson was stopped and a large sum of money found in his pocket, plus twelve gold sovereigns in a purse. Through the exertions of Superintendent Burton of the Railway Police, the purse was identified by a Miss Powell as belonging to her. It had been stolen from her only a day or two previously whilst waiting on a platform to see a friend off. On sentencing, Simpson threw up his hand pretending to faint, but on removal from the dock he was observed to poke his tongue out at his fellow prisoners. (The Times)
1930: The 2.40 a.m. express passenger train from Shrewsbury to Penzance ran into a stationary goods train at Lawrence Hill at 5.45 a.m. Fortunately for the thirty to forty people on board the train, no one was injured. A more serious disaster was averted owing to the prompt actions of the driver and fireman of the locomotive. When the driver of the express train, James Burroughs, saw the tail-lights of the goods train in front, he applied the brakes with the assistance of his fireman, A. Paul. Although collision seemed inevitable both men stayed on the footplate of their locomotive. The speed of the impact was estimated to have been 45mph. Frank Boobyer, guard of the goods train, jumped down from his van as he saw the express train approaching. His van was flung down the embankment into a brick-built shed and smashed. In total four goods trucks were derailed and destroyed, with the front of the express train described as being buried in wood and coal. Only the rear driving wheels of the express train were left on the track. The guard of the express train, a man named Saunders, had his van smashed but escaped unhurt. A special train was put on to allow the passengers to complete their journey. (The Times)
2001: Prime Minister Tony Blair was hit by a tomato thrown by a protester when he visited Bristol to open the City of Bristol College. As the Prime Minister arrived at the college several protesters surged forwards towards his car but were held back by police, some of whom were on horseback. Several tomatoes were thrown before one hit the Prime Minister. Mr Blair ignored the incident as he went in to officially open the college. Demonstrators held placards with the slogans such as 'People are more important than oil' and 'Cut the war tax'. The protest came amid pressure from EU allies to reconsider the sanctions on Iraq, which critics claimed had led to many civilian deaths. The second Iraq War did not start until March 2003. Alistair Campbell, Communication Secretary to the Prime Minister, also faced a hostile reception at the City of Bristol College in April 2004, when he attended a question and answer session with media and politics students. Four youths pelted his car with eggs. Later, he spotted two of the perpetrators and is reported to have said, 'You are the people who threw eggs at me earlier ... are you going to find some rashers of bacon?' (Daily Mail / Daily Telegraph / London Evening Standard)
1750: Captain Carbry arrived back in Bristol after his ship, Phænix, was seized by pirates on December 22nd. Phænix was stopped by an Algerine Corsair of thirty guns just off the coast of Lisbon, and under the pretence that one of the European passes was a forgery, the ship was seized and the ship's crew ordered to make for Algiers under the control of six Turks. Carbry, assisted by three of his crew, recovered his ship after flinging two of the pirates overboard. (John Latimer, Annals of Bristol, Kingsmead, 1970)
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2010: An unusual cargo arrived at the Royal Portbury Docks. Two 1940s Stanier 8F steam locomotives that had been sent out to Turkey as part of the war effort were returned to Britain by steam enthusiasts who hope to restore them. The locomotives had been rusting in Turkey before the railway enthusiasts went over to Turkey to free the wheels so the trains could be transported as part of a freight convoy to the port of Izmir – a 500-mile journey. Restoration of locomotives 45166 and 45170 are to be undertaken by two restoration groups at Barry in South Wales and Morepeth in Northumberland. (BBC News website)
1877: Six children named Daniel Baker, George Edwards, William Edwards, Henry Moore, William Durdan and George Wilk, each around 10 years old, were discovered at Bristol stowing-away in a goods train. They had been playing in a goods yard at Plymouth when a guard shouted at them and the boys hid in a truck. That truck was placed on a goods train bound for Penzance. When the train reached Truro the boys got out and tried to walk back towards Plymouth. It rained heavily so they went back to Truro station and, unobserved, got into another truck which they thought would take them back to Plymouth. However, the truck was actually part of a train that went straight through to Bristol. By the time they arrived at Bristol, three days and nights had elapsed since they went missing and several of the boys were so weak as to be unable to stand. The next day they were put in front of Bristol Police Court on charges that they did not pay their fare on the Great Western Railway. The magistrates remanded the children for a day to allow for further enquires but were of the opinion that it was hardly a case of defrauding the railway company. (The Times)
1815: James West was indicted for stealing bank notes and bills from the Bristol Mail Coach amounting to £1,357 17s 6d. C. King, clerk at the Montgomery Bank, made up the parcel and was directed to Mr Fothergill in London. The parcel was first given to Lee, guard of the Swansea coach, to deliver to the Bristol mail. It was then given to Morris, porter of the Bush Inn at Bristol, who delivered it to Lewis, clerk of the coach-office, who placed it on the back seat of the mailcoach. When the coach reached London, John Painter, clerk of the Swan with Two Necks, in Lad Lane, London, could not find the parcel. West was arrested on December 8th when he tried to use the stolen bank notes at the banking-house and the notes were immediately identified. Another witness, James Ball, porter at the Stock Exchange, claimed that West used him to change the bank notes, which were immediately identified. In giving his defence, West stated that he had got the notes at a gamming-house in the West End. He said that he had lately returned from sea and that the stolen notes could have passed through many hands before they came to him. The jury was unconvinced and found him guilty. (The Times)
1881: After an intense frost, snow began to fall heavily and temperatures remained low for a fortnight. Railway services were particularly affected, as this description shows: 'During the snowstorm, a fast train, which left Bristol for London at half-past five in the evening, did not reach its destination until seven o'clock the following evening, having been snowed up near Didcot. The chairman of the Great Western Railway Company, at the half-yearly meeting held soon afterwards, stated that 111 miles of their lines had been drifted up, and 64 trains were buried in drifts, exclusive of 141 temporary blocks sustained by others. The clearing of snow added many thousands of pounds to the working expenses of the company. Postal communication in some parts of the country was suspended for three days.' (John Latimer, Annals of Bristol, Kingsmead, 1970)
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1888: 'We had a repetition of the fog in Bristol ... and when the darkness set in traffic on the suburbs was only safely carried on with extreme care. The fog was dense upon the river and greatly interfered with shipping movements. On the hills the fog was thicker than in the more central parts of the town.' (Bristol Times)
1908: The University College of Bristol had been taking students since it first opened on October 10th 1874. It had been founded through the efforts of John Percival, headmaster of Clifton College, who had observed that the provinces of Britain usually lacked a university and produced a pamphlet entitled The Connection of the Great Universities and the Great Towns. This was well received by Benjamin Jowett, master of Balliol College at Oxford, who became a financial backer of the new university. Unusually for the time, when the University College of Bristol opened, it accepted men and women on an equal basis, except in the area of medicine. By the 1900s it had become desirable to seek a charter. However, it was difficult to raise the endowment of the college above £30,000 until H.O. Wills, on January 14th 1908, promised to donate £100,000 provided the charter could be granted in two years. Within twenty-four hours more money had been raised for the university than had been raised in the previous three decades. On May 24th 1909 the charter, approved by King Edward VII, came into effect and the University College of Bristol became Bristol University. (Bristol University website)
Excerpted from The Bristol Book of Days by D.G. Amphlett. Copyright © 2011 D.G. Amphlett. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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